By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Our state is not a rich state. While we must devise effective strategies to broaden our revenue base, we would be careful not to outstretch the limited resources that we have by attempting to take on all our problems at the same time. Therefore, the government has identified a few strategic sectors that will attract our priority attention.
These include the provision of water, good roads, and employment, especially for women and youth through agriculture and agro_allied industries and education.”
With the above statement made in the his inaugural speech, Governor Abubaker Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, went to work transforming various sectors of the economy in the state with special emphasis on agro_ allied.
It’s no doubt that things are happening in all the sectors of the economy in Governor Saraki’s led administration in Kwara State, which has made many to ponder where the great wisdom is coming from.
A visit to the state will reveal a well articulated programmes and policies that are designed not only for this generation, but also for generations yet unborn. Though, he is not a seer or prophet neither is he a magician, but Governor Saraki has some traits of a man who can read the future, the ability of an Eagle, the Wisdom of Solomon and the gentility of a Dove.
From his policies and programmes, he has demonstrated that he understands the problems of his people and he is all out to solve them.
To some who do not understand the Commercial Farming Initiative of his administration, everything about it is the planting of soya beans and maize on hundreds of hectares of land in Shonga by the once Zimbabwean Farmers now New Nigerian Farmers.
With 15 MVA 33/11 KV injections sub_station commissioned in 2009 supplied the whole of Shonga communities, such as Dumagi, Shetanbura among others.
Before now, most of Shonga areas had no feeder roads but since assumption of Saraki in office, over 45 kilometres of roads have been constructed which have added value to over 13 families of farmers.
A Zimbawean farmer, Mrs Gayes Reids runs a cattle ranch on 1,000 hectares of land with 360 cows and a milk section. According to Reids, each cow produces 15 litres of milk per day and about 1,000 litres of milk is being supplied to WAMCO, a diary firm where the milk is being used for the production of Yoghurts, 100 percent liquid milk.
The new Nigerian project is however all embracing. For instance, one of the farmers is doing what many might not believe could be done. Right now, a New Nigerian farmer is in Brazil sourcing for 1,500 herds of cattle to be brought to Shonga farm not to be slaughtered but for milk production.
The same farmer is also to turn out 10,000 chickens per day. Some of them are being projected for export. Again, unknown to many part of the reasons why a cargo shed is to be constructed at the Ilorin International Airport is to facilitate easy exportation of goods from agro_allied industries that has begun to spring up in the state.
The cargo shed has inbuilt cold store where products for export would be_ stocked pending their cargo to the Middle East, Europe and other destinations. Government is not only concentrating on the Shonga farm, the Malete Youth Integrated Farm is another wonder and a clear testimony of government’s determination to make the people of Kwara, particularly youths know and appreciate modem ways of farming.
Right now, 100 youths drawn from the 16 local government areas of the state are learning everything about modem farming and they are expected to be millionaires after the training. “This is not to be achieved through lotto, rather, their training involves, how they will be able lo obtain agric loans and how to be a successful farmer and farm manager.
The Farm Manager Mr. Colin Spain who incidentally is also a Zimbabwean farmer has been doing everything possible to prepare the lucky youths for the future because they are not only expected to be large scale farmers after the training, but they are also expected to train other youths.
The facilities on the large farm show clearly that the state government is focused and well determined to keep the youths on the farm. There is hostel facility with electricity. DSTV is also installed so that the youths could be familiar with the happenings around the globe.
Apart from sporting facilities on the farm, there is also a laundry while the trainees are also paid stipends monthly. The training on the farm is not a jamboree neither is the farm established for unserious minds. In line with the policy of the state government, discipline is a must and any trainee who cannot abide by the farm rules is weeded out unceremoniously.
Just like the Shonga farm, the Malete community and indeed communities around Malete are also to benefit from the farm. Government is prepared to buy grains produced by the local farmers who are also to benefit from the technology being used on the youth farm.
Provision is also being made to supply the local farmers with inputs. Again, like Shonga and the surrounding communities, Malete and the surrounding communities are to be provided with many social amenities. Even, the state is not forgetting the nomadic Fulani cattle rearers. This year, gracing fields with boreholes will be provided for them across the state.
This is significant because it will reduce the constant friction between the local farmers and the cattle rearers. There had been instances in the past when the local farmers clash with cattle rearers who allow their animals to eat grains and tubers on the farms.
Very soon, high yielding tomatoes seedlings from Italy will be made available to the local farmers, the New Nigerian Farmers as well as the Youth Farmers in Malete. This is in preparation for tomato paste processing industry in the state.
It was gathered that already, Ganza Engineering Limited has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state government for the establishment of a $2.3 million Fish Farm to be cited along Ilorin International Airport road. The farm will produce one million kilogram of fish annually. It is to start with cat fish which is very popular in the Nigerian market.
Another notable thing about the farm is that it is targeted at the graduates of agriculture. This is not to say that those who have lower qualifications would not be employed, but graduates of agriculture have about 40 percent of jobs on the farm reserved for them. The Kwara State government is also giving the much needed attention to the Cocoa Rebirth Programme of the Federal Government. About 4,000 graduates are currently on employment at various farmlands in Shonga.
The laudable programme is under the supervision of the Deputy Governor, Chief Joel Afolabi Ogundeji who comes from Isin Local Government Area, the headquarters of the cocoa producers in the state. This is in line with the policy of the state government that a round peg should be put in a round hole. Recently, the state government provided N 1.4million worth of input for cocoa farmers in the state. The Bukola Saraki led administration is also not relenting in the area of cassava initiative, cassava farmers are being encouraged and each of the local governments in the state is to have a cassava processing machine.
A cashew processing machine is already on ground for the smooth take_off of cashew processing industry at Ogbondoroko.
Fertilizer plants are also to be established at Share and Jebba. And the good news about these plants is that they will produce fertilizers suitable for Kwara soil. The focus of the state government is not only to address food security and unemployment; it is also to produce enough food for Nigerians and for export.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Alhaji Saka Onimago who disclosed that the state government only have 15 percent equity in the farming project, confirmed that N5 billion was raised by private sector to support commercial farming in the state.
“I do not know where Governor Saraki got this wisdom from”, he said.
If you look at his policy on agriculture, you will discover that he thinks ahead of this generation”. Indeed, most people will agree with the commissioner that Kwara is lucky to have a man who is not only surprising people with the Shonga and Malete farms, hut also Duku/Lade Rice project which has equally recorded huge success
Another farm project is the Malete Youth Integrated Agricultural Farm Project. Malete Youth Integrated Farm Centre The centre is one of the Governor Bukola Saraki’s ways of ensuring transfer of technology and training of the new generation of successor commercial farmers. Over 500 school leavers and graduate were trained in all aspects of commercial farminig especially crop, livestock and fish production.
These youth were employed and are now self employed on their own farms but also have become employer of labour. This is the Government Farm which has been chosen as the site for one of the most important aspects of the whole Kwara Agricultural Project.
The farm, being run by Colin Spain, is been used to train students, approximately one hundred students. After their time they will be expected to have picked up the important principles of commercial farming and, most importantly, apply them when they leave. If the students can learn and apply the knowledge being imparted then they will have an enormous effect on agriculture across the whole of Nigeria.
The Malete farm is situated about forty minutes drive out of Ilorin in a fertile area. The farm itself has some major assets in the form of a large dam and some potentially very good buildings. It is also planned that it be connected to NEPA sometime soon. With some more investment along these lines it will unleash huge potential.
Since implementation the site has fallen into disrepair. Student accommodation is being renovated.
There are a dozen buildings on the farm in need of repair and this process is progressing nicely.
There are several large items of infrastructure on the farm which will soon be getting the maintenance and repair they need.
The largest of these being the main shed. This is a of about 1000 square metres with office space and seven service pits for vehicle maintenance. This building, though structurally sound will need some serious renovation before it can be used.
The technology to be used by small scale commercial farmers is an area of great debate. The graduates of Malete will not initially have the capital required to start a large commercial farm with all the necessary equipment and so efforts are being made to try and find a more affordable alternative. One idea is the kind of small scale agricultural machinery used in China such as the ‘walking tractor’.
The project is the brainchild of the Governor of Kwara State, Saraki who took the initiative in inviting a group of displaced Zimbabwean farmers to come and visit Kwara in 2004 to assess the potential for commercial agriculture development. This bold step was met with great enthusiasm by a number of parties and has since led to the development of a pilot scheme involving fifteen farmers who have now moved to Kwara State from Zimbabwe. The scheme has already attracted international investment from outside Africa.
The project is situated in an area midway between Lagos and Abuja and so can serve both markets. The highway between the two major cities is nearing completion and this will be a major boost to transport. Exports are on the horizon.
If the domestic market is ever filled then there are plenty of crops which are suitable for export.
Exports by air are on the horizon! The air strip at Ilorin International Airport is large enough to accommodate cargo flights to Europe and plans are underway to do exactly that. This means that high value crops may be a possible export. This already happens with flowers and vegetables from East and Southern Africa and since Nigeria is only six hours away from London or Amsterdam this is a very important possibility.